SENIOR politicians and council officials knew “many” children in Rotherham were at risk of sexual exploitation almost a decade ago, a former high-ranking civil servant said yesterday.
Dr Sonia Sharp, Rotherham children’s services director between 2005 and 2008, said she was briefed by “politicians, senior managers and frontline staff about the issue of sexual exploitation of young people” when she began her role.
Dr Sharp said staff feared that this was “the tip of an iceberg” but were faced with the predominant view that the abuse victims were “promiscuous teenagers in consensual relationships.”
Her comments follow the publication of a damning report which found that up to 1,400 youngsters suffered wide-scale sexual exploitation — including gang rapes, grooming and trafficking — in Rotherham over a 16-year period.
Dr Sharp’s claims put further pressure on South Yorkshire Police Commissioner Shaun Wright, who was Labour cabinet member responsible for children’s services for part of that time.
Mr Wright has said he was “simply not aware of the scale of the problem” and is refusing to quit his current £85,000 role despite intense pressure to do so.
There have also been demands for an investigation into whether he committed misconduct in public office during his time as head of children’s services at the council between 2005 and 2010.
Dr Sharp was among a number of former Rotherham Council staff and police officers interviewed by Professor Alexis Jay for the report published on Tuesday which revealed the scale of abuse.
Prof Jay said that given the information available to agencies by April 2005, “nobody could say ‘I didn’t know’.”
Shadow home office minister Jack Dromey said the report was “clear on the huge institutional failure that allowed this abuse to continue for such a long time.
“It is right that those who presided over a culture of complacency and inaction in the face of such depravity should be held to account. This includes Shaun Wright,” he said.